Cheap Gets Cheaper

The good news is that Spirit Airlines is cutting fares across the board by as much as 40 percent. The bad news is that the passengers may be nickeled-and-dimed into a coma before they reach their destinations.

The plan goes like this: Spirit cuts fares to the bone and charges for all the extras. Like checking bags. That’s right. Starting June 20, each passenger may carry on one bag and one "personal item" for free. The passenger may also check up to two bags, but it will cost $5 for each bag.

This is the new face of discount airlines. It ain’t pretty, but it sure is cheap.

And here’s what will come of fees like that: bulging, oversized, carry-ons that passengers can barely drag down the aisle and heave into the overhead bins. Some passengers already travel that way. What if everybody tries to clean and jerk a 40-pound wheelie bag over his or her head? Think of the clogged aisles. Think of the back injuries. Think of the bin-jacking fights and bag-mashing competitions.

And don’t forget, there are a lot of things  the Transportation Security Administration won’t let you carry on board – including more than 4 ounces of almost any liquid. So some passengers will have to check bags.

And if fees are levied per bag, the people who check bags will certainly try to cram everything into one bag instead of two. I fear greatly for the spinal health of the nation’s baggage handlers

Well, enough of my whining about baggage. I guess I already did that.

I’ll move on to whining about refreshments. Spirit will also start charging $1 for coffee or soda. Water will still be free. Snacks? How’s a prepackaged $2 muffin sound to you? I didn’t think so.

It’s beyond funny that Southwest, the big daddy of low-cost carriers, looks positively luxurious by comparison. Check up to three bags at no cost, drink free soda or coffee, get free snacks on flights more than two hours long. Whoo-hoo!

And let me add, that while almost all airlines charge for alcohol, Southwest charges only $3 for a Miller or a Budweiser. At that price, I might even drink one. But Spirit charges $5, and that’s just pitiful.

Still, passengers will decide whether Spirit is offering them a good deal. That’s how the free market works, and I’m all for it. If the fares are low enough, it’s conceivable that you might even catch me on a Spirit flight one of these days, clutching my free bottle of water and my overstuffed carry-on. (Spirit flies out of Providence, but not Bradley. Yet.)

Still, I worry about this "unbundling" (that’s the technical term for "nickel-and-diming") spreading to airlines that don’t discount so heavily. How long will it be before I’m paying standard airfares and paying to check bags, too?

That’s too stressful to think about. Maybe I’ll need that lousy $5 beer after all.


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